What is ... ?: 

 Meningitis means inflammation of the meninges, which are the membranes that line the brain and spinal cord. Most cases of meningitis are due to bacterial or viral infection. Some forms occur in specific breeds however, and are believed to have an inherited basis. This may be because of a genetically determined abnormality of the immune system.

Beagle pain syndrome, Bernese mountain dog aseptic meningitis, pug meningoencephalitis are types of meningitis.

Abnormality Breeds affected Clinical features
beagle pain syndrome beagle seen at 5 to 10 months of age; fever, depression, intense neck pain (dogs stand with their head and neck stiff and extended, and are reluctant to move); signs wax and wane
aseptic meningitis Bernese mountain dog 3 to 12 months; fever, neck pain, stilted gait; signs may wax and wane
necrotizing meningo- encephalitis (pug encephalitis) pug, Maltese terrier  signs develop between 6 months and 7 years, and include seizures (which increase in severity), change in attitude, neck pain and rigidity, circling, and/or blindness

How is ... inherited?: 


How is ... diagnosed?: 

 Your veterinarian will do blood tests and take a sample of cerebrospinal fluid ( a spinal tap) to determine the cause of your dog's illness. A spinal tap, which is done under general anesthetic, will help to determine whether there is an infectious cause (septic meningitis) - an important factor in the decision about treatment. 

How is ... treated?: 

 Both beagle pain syndrome and Bernese mountain dog aseptic meningitis are treated with high doses of corticosteroids, which are gradually tapered to a low dose every second day. If 6 months goes by without problems on the low dose, your veterinarian may suggest that you try stopping the treatment. This works well in some dogs; others will have to be on a low dose for life.

Unfortunately there is no treatment that is effective for pug encephalitis. Seizures become progressively more difficult to control, and the abnormalities between seizures become worse.  Most affected dogs are euthanized or die within a few weeks to a few months of the disorder first appearing.

For the veterinarian: 

 With bacterial meningitis, there is also fever, muscle rigidity and neck pain. However the signs are more severe and progress more rapidly than with aseptic meningitis. Signs such as bradycardia, DIC, shock and hypotension are much more often seen with bacterial meningitis. With both conditions, there is pleocytosis and elevated protein in the CSF.

beagle pain syndrome: CBC - nonregenerative anemia and leukocytosis with neutrophilia; CSF tap shows a neutrophilic pleocytosis with mild to moderate increase in protein
Bernese mountain dog aseptic meningitis: CBC - neutrophilia; CSF - neutrophilic pleocytosis and elevated protein
pug encephalitis: CBC - no abnormalities; CSF - leukocytosis (mostly small lymphocytes) and elevated protein. Clinically, seizures predominate, with abnormalities in gait, posture and behaviour persisting between seizures, and cortical blindness. In the more slowly progressive form, dogs may initially be neurologically normal between seizures.

Breeding advice: 

 Affected animals should not be used for breeding. Although little is known about the inheritance of these conditions, it is best to also avoid breeding parents or siblings of affected pups.



 Ackerman, L. 1999. The Genetic Condition: A Guide to Health Problems in Purebred Dogs. pp 138-139. AAHA Press. Lakewood, Colorado.

 Meric, S.M. 1992. Breed-specific meningitis in dogs. In J.D. Bonoguara and R.W. Kirk (eds) Kirk's Current Veterinary Therapy XI Small Animal Practice. pp. 1007-1009. W.B. Saunders Co., Toronto.

What breeds are affected by ... ?